Grasping reality

30 September 2006 | Authors, Reviews

I suppose many readers, like myself, first encountered Pentti Saaritsa (born 1941) as a translator, and only later as a poet. He published a distinguished translation of Pablo Neruda’s poetry in 1964. Since then he has interpreted South American poetry, previously almost totally unknown in Finland but which has become, precisely through Saaritsa’s translations, important for many readers and writers.

In addition to Neruda, he has edited anthologies of Latin American poetry, and among writers he has translated are Miguel Angel Asturias, Gabriel García Marquéz, Fernando Pessoa, Federico García Lorca, Paulo de Carvalho-Neto and Jorge Luis Borges.

His first volume Pakenevat merkit (‘Fugitive signs’, 1965) and the subsequent two included prose poems, which clearly demonstrate his poetic character. Saaritsa is an intellectual and a sceptic, often an ironic one. In the 1960s and 1970s poetry was typically a channel for social criticism, and it was so with Saaritsa as well. Like many artists of his generation he leaned to the radical left in the ’70s. His intellectual sense of proportion was nevertheless preserved, even though his poems did adopt the poetic modes of political agitation and spoke of ‘comrades’.

Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Salvador Allende’s Chile represented hope, the potentiality for change. Allende’s murder and Chile’s 1973 revolution of the right were among the decade’s political and ideological turning points for Finland’s left-wing intelligentsia. They aroused bitterness and grief, which Saaritsa’s poetry immediately registered.

The gradual deterioration of the radical left, which culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Union, caused problems of orientation and feelings of resignation for many. These can also be seen in Saaritsa’s poems too.

Pentti Saaritsa has published more than twenty volumes of his own poetry, and there have been anthologies as well. They represent an aesthetically exacting and boldly engaged approach to the present and its crises.

A sentiment of not being at home in this world begins to emerge in the volumes of the 1990s, but Saaritsa gradually develops it into a calm philosophical stance. His views broaden and events and experiences take their place in the larger cosmos. The poems in Valkoiseksi maalattu musta laatikko (‘A black box painted white’, WSOY, 2006) are evidence of an fully realised worldview.

In his recent volumes Saaritsa’s poetic expression, which has always been characterised by precision and polish, is straightforwardly impressive. A severe grasp of reality emerges from his irony and humour.


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